YOURS, MINE AND OURS-KOSHY’S PARADE CAFE

The much coveted Sugar Bowl at Koshy's.

The much coveted Sugar Bowl at Koshy’s. Image courtesy: Nirlek Dhulla, dejaview.in for Native Place

I’m going to get you a Koshy’s special fried egg sandwich!” says P Oommen Koshy (aka Prem) and disappears into the kitchen. While I wait, I smile at familiar faces, chat with those who stop by and recognise regulars who, like me, have cut their milk teeth in Parade Café (Koshy’s Restaurant) on St.Mark’s Road. The sandwich appears. “You made it yourself!” I say accusingly. He shrugs. “Two of the boys were unwell and didn’t come in. It was a busy day in the kitchen.”

The hands on approach is an institutional legacy. “We initially began as a bakery that was founded and personally supervised by my grandfather, Mr. P.O Koshy, in the 1940’s. Though he was a Senior Executive in a private banking company, he felt the need to start out on his own.The bakery, one of the earliest in the Cantonment,  supplied the garrisons with the traditional English `Army Loaf’. Bread and pastries then began to be delivered to residents at their doorsteps. This evolved into a department store on South Parade.” Following a rental arrangement with the St. Mark’s Cathedral next door, under the auspice of the Presbytr- in-Charge, Reverend Cannon Elphyck, the Parade Café was established around 1952 for troops and gentry in the Cantonment. “It was where garrulous “soldiers came by to pick up Roast Chicken by the dozen after a few drinks and an evening at the Bowring Institute.” The restaurant Visitors Book records that the second person to walk in after its opening was a young Mr. R. Gundu Rao. He went on to become a regular here and the Chief Minister of Karnataka.

The department store shifted here from South Parade (now MG Road). It then moved to the corner when The Jewel Box opened with swank air-conditioned comfort and a dance floor. Bengalureans boogied here to jazz music with the legendary Fred Hitchcock and his Big Brass Band from Kolkata. Koshy’s went on become Official Caterers to the Maharaja of Mysore. Exclusive catering for visiting dignitaries, including Pandit Jawharlal Nehru, Queen Elizabeth II, Marshal Tito and Russian politician Nikita Krushchev followed. The bakery invested in modern machinery and went `automatic’. Oven fresh, machine made bread soon found its way onto the shelves. Rich plum cakes rolled out at Christmas and wedding cakes, buns, dinner rolls and biscuits followed. They still do.

The legacy was passed on by M. P Koshy Oommen and ever since, this large restaurant with high ceilings and railway waiting room style vintage décor is where countless Bengalureans have lived, loved  and sat with its famous `pot of tea’ every day, watching life pass by. My earliest memories as a child were Sunday morning breakfasts here with my grandfather and his walking friends after due diligence in Cubbon Park. The elderly army men sat at the same table and ordered Scrambled Eggs On Toast, just as they had done the week before. The Koshy’s ritual made the seven year old me feel privileged and immensely important. The Scrambled Eggs still comfort me when I need to bridge the distance with those long gone. Our most vivid memories of the past often emerge from early childhood routines and this was one of them.

While the Sunday Appams and Stew as well as the Anglo-Indian inspired Fish and Chips, Mutton Curry, Prawn Curry and rice are now iconic items on the extensive menu, I am told over 550 dishes (not counting repeats) are sent out from the kitchen daily.  “We recently had five generations from one family sitting at one table. Everyone ordered their favourites because each dish came with a personal memory.Their great-great grandfather wanted our Mutton Cutlets!”

Of course, almost everyone in the city has their favourite Koshy’s stories but Bengaluru’s much loved eatery too has its own.“The walls have stories to tell and so do I” says Prem. He tells me about a day when the staff came into his office to report a German couple weeping at a table. “I arrived at the table which had a Cold Coffee and Chicken Puff on it. I asked them if there was a problem with the food… the service…tears rolled down their faces as they handed me a photograph. It was me as a child between two beautiful, young blonde girls. They asked me if that was me. I said yes. They then told me that they had courted each other at Koshy’s decades ago and were on a nostalgia visit to the city. She was one of the girls in the picture. They were saddened by this changed city and the news of my father’s demise, but it was when the familiar cold coffee and puff arrived that they couldn’t contain themselves any longer and broke down. The food just brought it all back!”

While Prem believes that their policy of `give and take’, the maintaining of the great cosmic balance keeps Koshy’s spirit alive (don’t be surprised if he hands you Mahagony seeds to plant), perhaps the reason lies deeper in our hearts. Its doors are open to everyone. People have slept on sofas here and grown up on its high chairs. Creative ideas have been articulated, new businesses developed, governments brought down by scribes and love has blossomed and failed at its tables. Their vintage sugar bowls are containers of not just sugar but also decades old city secrets.

Extensive research has been done to establish that our sense of psychological comfort and rootedness hinges heavily on familiarity, shared experiences and continuity of place. While the city around it changes at a terrifying speed, third generation custodians, Prem and Santosh (P.Oommen Mathew) ensure that the restaurant remains a haven of familiarity in our now virtually unrecognisable world.  It has never been renovated (maybe just a little maintenance) and everything, including the menu, is the way it has always been for over sixty years. Koshy’s grounds us in space and time and reassures us that we are still part of a continuum. Its legacy is ours too.

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Find it at: #39, St. Marks Road, Bengaluru 560001. Ph: +91 90151 07993. 9:00 am-11:30pm.

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This story is a part of “Bengaluru-A Remembered City’, a project that seeks to map the city through the memories and narratives of its people. Originally published in the Bangalore Mirror on June 22nd, 2015.

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4 comments

  1. Five generations at a table in Koshy’s…that must be a most precious flick if there was one! I will surely visit Koshy’s the next time I come to BLR.

  2. Again a very well written piece. The little anecdote about the German couple is heart warming. Koshy’s was situated as a small welcoming restaurant on Brigade Road. The piece of land given to them on the St. Mark’s Road land was the combined effort of Mr P O Koshy , the grandfather ofthe present Koshys in combination with Cannon Elphyck, the then Warden of Bishop Cotton Boys School at Bangalore as also the Presbyter at St. Mark Cathedral and Dewan Bahadur K Mathan. Koshy’s and the Jewel Box made its apearance sometime in 1950 or so.

    1. Thank you for writing in and also re-confirming the details (written in the post)regarding the setting up of both the restaurants on St.Mark’s Road.

  3. Awesome! A wave of nostalgia hit me hard… Dad’s office was in Rathnam’s complex before shifting to Ali Asker Road. During summer holidays, I used to accompany him to office so that I can play in the elevator. A lot of times he used to take me to Koshy’s. Good old days

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